If you base your knowledge of Christianity on what you see on TV and in movies, you're going to come away with a lot of crazy and utterly false ideas. Even shows that propose to be Christian often get it fundamentally wrong (such as the old program Touched By An Angel).
There is one aspect of secular portrayal of Christianity that is sort of amusing to Christians though, and that's how people seem to think Christian = Roman Catholic. The Catholic Priest is everywhere, as if they represent all of the faith.
Yet I understand why. Its an iconic image, one that people can recognize and understand without needing any sort of explanation. He's the guy with the collar and the black coat, got it. Priest. And there's something to that idea.
I know modern preachers want to be as ordinary and approachable and buddy buddy as possible. I know their desire is to be someone that anyone can talk to comfortably and not feel awkward or restrained. That's not a bad goal, in its self.
But at the same time, there's something about wearing a distinctive outfit that sets you apart from the crowd which is useful as well. In fact, I'd argue that pastors should always stand out and be distinct in their dress for several reasons.
There's a reason police wear uniforms. Its not because they are a quasi-military organization, although they used to be. Its not because it creates solidarity. Its because that way everyone knows who the cop is. When you need help, you know who to turn to. That's part of the reason superheroes wear costumes: they are set apart and distinct. Superman is obvious, when I need help I can talk to him. Clark Kent is just a guy, who knows how much help he'll be?
In the same way, ministers of the gospel should stand out so that everyone knows they are around and who to turn to. Its true that in small groups and communities, a minister is known by their character and by sight, but almost nobody lives in this sort of situation. Most people live in large urban areas where everyone is anonymous, unless they stand out in some way. Like a policeman.
Its not just that everybody behaves differently around a cop - or preacher. That's a valuable thing, it helps keep people in line when they otherwise might not. When that police car is in sight, people actually tend to drive under the speed limit. When a minister is around, people tend to be more careful about their language and topics they speak about.
And the uniform helps regulate the behavior of the person wearing it. Cops know that when they are wearing that blue outfit, they are under scrutiny and have to behave more carefully than when they are not in it. In the same way, a minister can blend in without that distinctive look, and with it, they know they are being more carefully watched.
Yet there is another aspect to this. To illustrate, I'll let J D Bridges from Tabletalk Magazine explain:
Standing on a busy street corner in the Bronx, I was approached by a petite woman wearing dark-rimmed glasses. She startled me by giving my arm a small tug, and then she whispered something I didn’t hear. I leaned over and asked her to repeat her words. This time I heard her whisper: “Could you pray for me? I’m HIV-positive, and I don’t know if God loves me.”Now, its possible she just walked up to some random guy on the street and begged them to pray for her. But I think it unlikely. Somehow Mr Bridges stood out, he was distinctive in a way that drew this woman to approach him and give her request.
In that moment, I believe God gave me great clarity in explaining the gospel to her as she listened closely. Yet she neither said, “I believe!” or “Thanks, but no thanks.” Instead, she began to ask me more questions about the Bible. As she contemplated each answer, it seemed to ignite a new series of questions. I could see her collecting, analyzing, and categorizing her thoughts as she struggled to make sense of the gospel and her suffering. For forty-five minutes we stood there on that cold street corner: two strangers conversing about the story of God.
And that's an aspect that ministers of the gospel should be able to take advantage of. Their job, and delight, perhaps, is to be ready to help all in spiritual areas, and be there to give the good news. They have a special task which calls for a special look, I believe.
So that collar, which has been all but abandoned but used to be more common, is a good thing. Its not enough to just dress nice, you want to be distinctly a preacher, not just a well dressed clean cut guy.
All Christians should stand out in their behavior, we should be distinctive in an increasingly troubled and damaged culture. All Christians should be someone who seems different. But a preacher has a special and specific calling beyond being a Christian, and its not enough to just be Christian in a crowd.
Whether that means robes or a collar or something else, Christian ministers should be different looking, not just different seeming or acting. For their good, and for the good of the community and the opportunities it provides them.